Of course, this is a follow on to my previous post about Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited.
Like that album, Epic Pale Ale isn’t a beer I’ve drunken all that much of recently, but it was like coming home to an old friend. And, like Dylan’s landmark album marked a massive shift from folk to rock as the 60s counter-culture exploded into public consciousness, so too can this hoppy little ale be considered an important marker in the shift attitudes of New Zealand drinkers towards flavoursome beer.
It’s been brewed for eight years now (or more, I’m not sure), marking it as one of the more venerable New Zealand craft beers in this young, burgeoning market. And its distinctive green-on-white labelled bottles, with its clean sharp lines and bold text can now be found in bars, supermarkets and superettes up and down the country.
It’s an eye-catching beer, especially when standing proud in a four-pack, its distinctly contrasting colouring and bold clean graphics helping it to stand out from the blue, red and green boxes favoured by the mass-market lagers, and the darker, busier single bottles of other local craft brewers.
I’ve often wondered how much its distinct appearance, its clean modern look, has helped contribute to this beer’s reputation as one of the more common “gateway beers” for local drinkers. It’s surely a factor – especially, I suspect, for someone looking to take a few beers to a dinner party or a BBQ with the boss, and wanting something a bit different, a bit of a talking point.
It wasn’t my gateway beer – a massively complex barley wine from England was the one that convinced me there was something to this craft beer thing, then it was Emerson’s Pilsner that began to replace other lagers when I was looking for a beer to drink. But I know many others for who it was – or, I’ve often heard – the second or third step taken towards exploring the wonderful world of hops.
Because that’s what this beer does. Hops. And a lot of them, especially if you’re fairly new to the intense fruity flavours that a hoppy beer can bring. A very American pale ale, the Epic Pale Ale explodes with US Cascade of bitter orange, a sharp citrus taste that cuts right through.
But there’s this big thick toffee base underneath from English pale ale and Crystal malts; a big solid bottom end that holds a very delicious sensation of “beer.” Sweet, full, carrying the citrus hop flavours around and around the mouth, leading to a long aftertaste with an almost chewy sensation in the mouth, the linger hop oils covering the palate, making you take another sip to ease the not-unpleasant sensation.
Sold in four packs, Epic Pale Ale is useful for a little experiment worth doing with a good beer. Drink each bottle in a different setting, or a different time of day. The one I drunk on my deck in the sun listening to Bob Dylan and reading a book was the last of the pack. One had been drunken with a meal, another on a hot afternoon after having got back from a run, another on a slightly cold Sunday afternoon.
And each tasted different. Now, four beers, all to the same recipe, all from the same batch. Yet with each I could pick out different flavours. With a meal the malt stood stronger, the hops fading a bit as the sweetness worked with my peri-peri chicken breast and salad.
The one consumed right after a run had an incredibly-full on hop taste; bright and tart. On the slightly cold afternoon, the whole thing was a bit muted, a more simple, solid beer with neither hops nor malt dominating.
And the fourth, on the deck, with me in a very relaxed state, pondering the beer and the music, was the most complex of all. The orange-oil sensation in the mouth stood out the most with each sip.
A good reminder that it’s not always the beer that changes, but the drinker. It’s all subjective.